My previous post dealt with the need for our churches to kill the “fuzzy gospel” – the imprecise understanding of Christ’s work on the cross being meant only to save the sinner rather than sanctify the saved as well. Here are five practical ways that I believe we can kill the “fuzzy gospel” in our ministries:
Look in the Mirror
Let’s not assume that the problem is entirely “out there.” We each need to ask ourselves a difficult question: “do I really understand the gospel with excellence?” Have I preached as a functional moralist who communicates that we are saved by grace, but sanctified by good works?
One of the major turning points in my life was observing the willingness of men I admired to confess that they didn’t always have a robust understanding of the gospel in their own ministries. Their willingness to repent and continue learning despite years of success challenged me to examine my own inadequate understanding of the gospel.
Quit Assuming People Get the Gospel
Just like we can’t assume that we get the gospel, we also can’t assume that our people get the gospel either. We often think that people have gotten the gospel and are ready to move onto something more complex in the Christian life because they have spent years, or even decades, in the church.
But can your people share their faith without relying entirely on a memorized presentation? Do they believe that they’re more loved by God because they attend church without fail and tithe? Do they understand that their sin is a gospel problem and not simply a “work harder at it” problem? If every Christian is to be Christ’s ambassador, challenge people to understand the gospel well enough to be an effective missionary for him.
Preach the Gospel the way Scripture does
It should astound us how often Paul speaks the gospel in his letters. He saw the issues that churches faced as gospel issues. When calling the Philippians to unity, he crescendos with the cross as the ultimate motivation to be unified for the gospel (Phil 2. 1-11). When telling the Ephesians about Christian marriage, he didn’t give three practical tips for making submission work, but instead calls for husbands to love their wives in the same way that Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25). The gospel was the lens through which Paul understood the whole of the Christian life, and this was manifest in his writing and preaching.
Never tire of preaching the cross, no matter the biblical passage. If we are preaching through an epistle, preach the gospel with the same frequency and specificity as the text. If we are preaching one of the Gospels, realize that all four head to the same glorious finale. If we are preaching the Old Testament, remember Jesus’ hermeneutics lesson on the road to Emmaus that the entirety of the Old Testament is about Him and His gospel (Lk. 24). A Jesus-less sermon is not a biblical sermon.
Counsel the Gospel for all of Life
When I began understanding the gospel’s impact on the whole of the Christian life, a new question entered my counseling conversations: “how do you think the gospel speaks to this problem?” If a believer is asking my advice on some issue in his life, I’m helping him work through the practical nature of how the gospel speaks to this matter. It’s one thing to make a blanket statement that the gospel is for all of life, but it’s another to work people through those implications to help them see this for themselves.
We must help the man with the constantly nagging wife recognize that his love for her is not conditional on her behavior, and that he cannot remove his affection because she’s complaining yet again. He must see that he is to demonstrate the unconditional love of the gospel in his marriage, and recognize just how ugly he has acted toward the Savior who has refused to let him go. The woman who still carries the guilt from aborting her child a decade ago must know the sufficiency of the cross to cover her sins, and that God is not pleased by her perpetual shame, but rather desires that she would understand the magnitude of redemption. The gospel speaks into the entirety of life—become well-equipped at pouring God’s grace through Christ onto all of your counseling conversations.
Live out the Gospel’s Implications and Invite Others to Observe
I hope that I have not given the impression that if one can rattle off impressive theological keywords like “imputed righteousness” then that person gets the gospel. He may or he may not. As we begin to grasp the impact of the gospel on the whole of our lives, we must invite others in to observe how it impacts everything that we do. Allow people to see how the gospel determines the way you treat your wife and discipline your kids. Overtip the waitress who did a poor job at your lunch meeting, making this a glimpse into the gospel that tells us that we are not accepted because of our performance, but rather in spite of our failures. Make your life one where you are intentionally discipling others by living out the gospel. Be deliberate in communicating that it is this that rules all that you do. The best means of killing the “fuzzy gospel” may be to simply invite others to see how the gospel transforms every area of our lives, speaking both to our successes and failures.